A new report in The Washington Post today finally explains the real reason behind President Trump’s otherwise inexplicable decision to vastly reduce the size of one of the two national monuments in Utah that he decimated last week over the protests of local Native American leaders and environmentalists everywhere.
Documents procured by the newspaper demonstrate that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a uranium mining company, spent months on lobbying efforts to convince the Trump administration to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument to make it easier for them to access uranium deposits in the area and process them at its facility adjacent to the monument.
Both Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Republican officials in Utah have repeatedly denied that mineral extraction issues have played any role in the decision to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, or more than 1.1 million acres.
“This is not about energy,” Zinke said this week. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”
Yet in a letter obtained by The Washington Post that Energy Fuels Resources CEO Mark Chalmers wrote to the Interior Department last May, he urges the Department to push for a reduction in the size of the 1.35 million-acre expanse that President Obama created, saying it “could affect existing and future mill operations.” He added:
“There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the [original boundaries] that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”
The uranium mining company did not limit its lobbying to simply writing letters, however. It also spent $30,000 to hire a team of lobbyists at the firm of Faegre Baker Daniels. In another example of the Trump administration’s commitment to letting the foxes guard the hen house, the lobbyists were headed by Andrew Wheeler, who is currently awaiting Senate confirmation as the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy secretary.
The report in the Post details a meeting between the lobbyists, company officials, and top advisors to Secretary Zinke to discuss the monument. Some of the company’s air and water quality monitoring stations were within the boundaries of the original monument, as well as a road leading to the now-dormant Daneros mine.
Ironically, Energy Fuels Resources has slashed its workforce by more than 50% since 2015 because low uranium demand and prices have reduced the need for robust mining efforts, so the efforts they have made to expand their potential extraction areas into the formerly protected lands are entirely based on the hope that markets will rebound and lead to future demand that will enable them to reopen the shuttered Daneros mine.
Opponents of Trump’s move to abandon the protections on this valuable natural resource see the move as a sellout to corporate interests. The Post quotes Greg Zimmerman, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation and advocacy group as saying:
“You listen to the rhetoric about how this was all really about taking special interests out of the equation,” Zimmerman said. “They’re doing this on behalf of special interests. When you look in terms of public access to recreation areas, there’s not a hunter or angler or outdoor recreationist who wants to be out and around an uranium mine.”
The Native Americans who have inhabited the area long before it was invaded by rapacious European settlers are fiercely opposed to the reclassification of the majority of the land they fought so hard to get the Obama administration to protect. Navajo Nation Council delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty spoke for several of the communities near Bears Ears when she said Friday that the nation is strongly opposed to any additional uranium development.
“We felt the full brunt of uranium contamination and lost a whole generation of men who were mining or milling uranium,” she said.
The Navajos have suffered from the effects of more 500 uranium mines remaining in their lands, many of which are yet-to-be-cleaned SuperFund sites. They are challenging the redesignation of the lands in Federal courts. Until we have a change in administrations, it’s the only hope they have left to protect their sacred lands.